WASHINGTON — Some might consider them to be a political odd couple, but don’t say that to Rabbi David Saperstein.
Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — the Reform movement’s advocate in Washington for social justice issues — was tapped Thursday to introduce U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — the highest-ranking Republican congressman — on day two of the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial.
Addressing the several hundred Jews at the morning plenary, who warmly welcomed Cantor, Saperstein read off a laundry list of legislative initiatives on which he and the congressman from Richmond, Va., have found common ground.
He called Cantor “a proud and engaged Jew, a champion of Israel and an opponent of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
And on those issues where they disagree — he drew a light round of applause from the crowd at that point — Saperstein noted that the two leaders would continue “to pursue our goals in different ways.”
Cantor used his brief remarks to remind the biennial goers that bipartisanship, especially in the cases of Israel and the nuclear threat from Iran, is not only doable, but a done deal in one very recent case
That case came Wednesday night when the House passed by a 410-11 vote the Iran Threat Reduction Act, which will add significant new sanctions to the Islamic republic
The bill, was spurred by last month’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that comes closer than ever to confirmation that Iran is nearing the ability to produce nuclear weapons.
The bill would impose new sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, as well as Iran’s Central Bank — considered a key facilitator of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It would also make it U.S. policy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, escalate the level of sanctions against the regime’s human rights violators and tighten enforcement of existing sanctions law.
Cantor never mentioned President Obama by name, but he did criticize the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, for striking differences between traditional anti-Semitism and hatred for Israel among the Arab regimes and streets.
“I say to you, any justification of any form of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated or condoned,” Cantor said.
He added that United States must send a strong message that, “it is not OK to vilify Israel and it is not OK to demonize Jews.”
Cantor is just one conservative political leader to appear at the biennial this week. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, also is scheduled to appear.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)